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Sermon on July 4, 2010

This sermon was given for the annual Jazz Eucharist at Trinity.

We have here three curious lessons:

A powerful leader (not a king-a general) who happens to be a “leper”
A nameless servant girl, who knows what to do
A trip not to the prophet, but to a king-who is clueless
Elisha takes over-but never sees the leper-general, who doesn’t get too close
The general doesn’t get it
More nameless servants who do get it
Healing, when trust in God’s word is stronger than trust in mortals; or, healing despite all
the wrong-headedness of the powerful. (2 Kings 5:1-14)

An epistle passage to define what burdens we help others with, what we carry for ourselves;
reminding us to be gentle and not to get caught up in differences that aren’t of the spirit;
finally reminding us that our glory is in Christ, not the world,
(Galatians 6:1-16)

And finally a Gospel, where 70 are sent out with power; to go ahead of Jesus; they tell those
who hear that the kingdom of God is come near; those that do not, that the kingdom of God has come near-the same message, no matter what. On return, they are amazed they have been able to command demons, but are told that their glory is in heaven, not earth.

(Luke 10:1-11, 16-20)

Thy kingdom come; the Kingdom of Heaven to come down to earth; a new heaven and a
new earth.

There is a country-the 14th most peaceful, the 4th most developed, which has the 3rd highest
life expectancy in the world, the most diverse country in the world with reportedly the
highest tolerance for ethnic minorities and immigrants. More than half go to university; their
high school students are second best in the world on some measures. We don’t live there.
The Canadians do.

If, in this country, justice is rolling down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty
stream-I haven’t seen it. I don’t see it in the homeless, the hungry, the disabled, the
different. I don’t see it in the patients for whom I have to think about whether there’s a
cheap medicine that might work-if they can collect enough cans to pay even for that. This
country was founded to be different, and many hoped it was God’s country. It isn’t
working. I’ve been listening to the songs of Woody Guthrie from the dustbowl and the
depression, about hunger and poverty and desperate striving for a better life-while whiskey
is being drunk, comforts had, too much food consumed by a few. There’s a rarely heard
verse:

In the squares of the city, in the shadow of a steeple
By the relief office, I’d seen my people
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Our system is simply not working-and, in my profession (and maybe in yours), there’s a principle that when
what you’re doing isn’t working, you should stop doing it. Throw the bums out; I don’t
think it matters what political views you hold to have thought, over the last years, that things
aren’t working and they ought to do better.

That’s really tempting; let’s have a revolution, or a movement and sweep our government
clean, let’s reform the systems. Not a new idea, and I am not suggesting revolution (or even
the abolition of private property)-revolutions and riots, after all, end up creating a mess
(broken windows, at the least) that create more work for the working class revolutions are
trying to help. And no, that’s not work as in “solve unemployment”. And a revolution is
not a person to which we should assign motive. Barbara Tuchman, in the foreword to The
Proud Tower
, points out that [the chronology of political events] is misleading because it
allows us to “rest on the easy illusion that it is ‘they,’ the naughty statesmen, who are
always responsible for war, while ‘we,’ the innocent people, are merely led.”

And I don’t want to leave any impression that I think this country is all bad, and why don’t
I go to Canada? (the winters are even colder and the mosquitoes larger). We get some
things pretty well-in principle, and they work sometimes in fact. For example, there was an
op-ed piece in the New York Times last week that pointed out that the decline of the
Protestant elite is its greatest triumph-if Ms. Kagan is confirmed to the Supreme Court,
white Protestant men will be a minority on the court. Our strengths are our belief in
meritocracy, rather than aristocracy, our belief in education, and above all, our belief in
fairness.

But these lessons are not about our political system, or any political system. They are about
the kingdom of God, and specifically our relationship to it, our citizenship. The kingdom of
God is in our relationship with God and our relationship-our actions-toward our
neighbor. Not in our actions as part of a civic body, state, or nation, but our individual
actions. We don’t earn the kingdom; it is given to us. It’s not about our merit, or lack of it;
simply our trusting acceptance of it-acceptance of something so radical, so overwhelming:
God’s kingdom on earth! God shares humanity and defeats death!-that we turn our
whole attention to that. Think of a small child carried by a parent; that child is serenely,
wholly settled in the parent’s arms, and all interactions with others come from that position
of secure trust. So our actions to the world we see should be: works of the spirit, not works
of flesh; works that treat all with gentleness.

Paul doesn’t give us a list of the spirit-filled works, and Jesus doesn’t give out a script for
proselytizing. Tell the good news, gather those who are already there-the harvest is there,
grown by God; gather it. These are not the passages which reiterate the Golden Rule, nor
the command to care for the orphan, the widow, and the stranger in your midst. These are
about how we approach all those good works. It’s not about how many demons you can
command, nor about what gifts you have, nor about establishing a right way to
do-whatever. Do it with gentleness, do it from the Spirit, and the new creation will be
realized. The kingdom of God is near whether we see it, or know it, or participate or not-if
we can live in that kingdom, working with the forbearance, trust, and tolerance of others that
Paul teaches, then others, too, will see that the kingdom of God is near. May we all live
there, forever and ever, amen.

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